CANNES — Many observers saw the future destruction coming. Craigslist’s local ads posed a clear threat to classifieds, social networks presented rival sources for community news; all began long ago.

Still, local news publishers, when they were in the throes of attempting to build their own digital platform, often found it hard to see that the world had already fallen from beneath them.

At fault? As advertisers have followed audiences to alternative online channels, the economic model for local news has evaporated.

Now a group comprising advertisers’ agencies, tech platforms and journalism non-profits is working to restore the strength of local news media around the world.

“We’ve actually built a whole system to identify and to create an index, essentially,” says Tom Jenen, United for News MD, in this video interview with Beet.TV.

“(It is) a scoring index for news and information media. We can identify what is the reputable news and information media in a market. And then … we’ve established a brand alliance where brands could join and commit to spending money with those sites that score highly on that index.”

A coalition, United For News has parallel trust initiatives, including to amplify women’s voices in local media, but it is this sustainability project which aims to address the economic foundation.

Essentially, it aims to develop a list of “brand-safe” media to make available to advertisers, agencies and platforms.

Jenen is a veteran of several digital marketing companies.

The way United For News sees it, the problem is that “bad” news sources – and, therefore, bad advertising vehicles – are coming in to colonize the local news deserts, whilst legitimate local news sources also struggle to offer the services from the likes of Google and Facebook.

So it is building “a program to on-board trusted media into (automated) digital advertising markets, enabling them to participate effectively in the advertising ecosystem that will dominate this century”.

“Over 100 news websites are going out of business every year, just in the US alone,” Jenen tells Beet.TV. “Right now in the US, over 30% of Americans live in news deserts where they have little to no access to local news. The same story (is) in Brazil and in other countries around the world.

“(News) content itself sometimes presents challenges for brands. And so rather than simply leaving news, which has kind of happened over the last couple of years as brands have come under fire for some times appearing next to the wrong kind of content… actually, the reality is that we need to find the right way to fund news and brand advertising is a strong way to do that.”

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